A cataract is simply a cloudy area present in the eye's lens. It does not cause pain, but can impair vision in some cases. The lens maintains a delicate balance between water and protein so that we can see clearly through it. If this protein clumps together, it clouds the lens causing a cataract. The exact reason this happens is unknown. Cataracts occur most frequently in older individuals, but others can get them as well.
There are different types of cataracts. Cataracts that form in elderly people are called age-related cataracts. Occasionally children develop cataracts or they are born with them. This condition is classified as congenital cataracts. Traumatic cataracts result from trauma or injury affecting the eye area. Secondary cataracts occur when someone is exposed to certain substances or conditions that encourage the development of cataracts such as, diabetes, steroids, diuretics, sunlight or radiation and toxic chemicals.
Cataracts can be configured in different types of formations. A nuclear cataract forms in the nucleus or center of the eye's lens and is most common in age-related cataracts. Cortical cataracts originate from the cortex, traveling from the edge of the lens to its center. Another type called a subcapsular cataract begins to form at the back of the lens.
Sometimes you may have a cataract but not be aware because it does not affect your vision significantly. Some possible symptoms of cataracts that interfere with your eyesight include:
An eye exam can determine if you have a cataract problem. Your doctor will have you look at an eye chart and also dilate the pupil to check the eye's condition up close.
If your cataract is not severe, vision aids like contacts or glasses may be all that you'll need to help your vision improve. If your cataracts significantly disrupt your everyday life, surgery is a viable option for treatment. Over ninety percent of cataract surgery patients benefit from better eyesight following the procedure. Cataract surgery removes the clouded lens and in most cases, replaces it with a new one. Standard extracapsular surgery makes an incision around the entire lens and it is removed in one piece. Phaecoemulsification uses an ultrasound to break the lens into small pieces. After it is broken, the lens pieces are suctioned out. This method requires a much smaller incision than standard extracapsular surgery and is favored by most doctors.
The replacement lens is a permanent, manmade device called an intraocular lens (IOL). The newest IOL's can block UV rays or allow the patient to see at different distances. However, most patients will still need some type of vision aid following surgery. Infants who suffer from cataracts may not receive an IOL at the time of surgery because their eye is growing and changing very rapidly. In this case a contact lens is used until an intraocular lens can be implanted into the eye. Older children may be able to safely receive an IOL at the time of their surgery. Cataract surgery is considered fairly safe and is the most commonly performed operation in the United States, averaging at least 1.5 million surgeries per year.
The exact cause of cataract formation is unknown, but certain behaviors or conditions increase the likelihood you will develop cataracts. High blood pressure, diabetes, and the use of certain medications can increase this risk. Toxic substances such as air pollution, cigarette smoke, radiation and excessive consumption of alcohol are also risk factors. Some research suggests that lead exposure is a possible risk for developing cataracts, but more evidence is needed to be conclusive. Antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin A, C and E, are helpful in promoting eye health and decreasing your risk of cataracts in the eye. Taking care of yourself and receiving regular eye exams are essential to clear and healthy eyesight and will lower your risk of cataracts and other eye problems in the future.
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